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We wanted a thick-cut bacon that would give us something to chew on.
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What You Need To Know
Thick-cut, double-cut, triple-thick-cut, extra-thick-cut, and even steak-cut: Bacon today comes in a variety of ever-more-substantial slices, accommodating a new world order in which bacon is no longer seen as a mere supporting player—there just to enhance the performance of the main ingredient—but as the star attraction, a meat worthy of attention in its own right. We decided to take a fresh look at this increasingly popular style of bacon, so we bought six top-selling national products (as assessed by IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm), priced from $3.99 to $6.99 per pound. We focused on the most basic thick-cut bacons, tasting them both plain and in BLTs.
How Thick Is Thick-Cut Bacon?
Large-scale commercial producers make thick-cut bacon the same way they make regular bacon: Fresh pork bellies are wet-brined—injected with a solution containing salt, sugar, and curing agents—and then cooked at a low temperature to remove excess moisture before being smoked, chilled, and sliced. The only real difference between thick-cut bacon and regular bacon is in how thickly the bacon is cut; in many cases, the two types are processed identically right up to the slicing stage.
There is no industry standard that dictates how thick a piece of bacon must be to be called thick-cut. On average, the products in our lineup ranged from 3.2 to 3.8 millimeters thick, about 50 percent thicker than the regular-cut bacons we'd tasted previously.
Thicker Bacon, Greater Chew
Tasters liked almost all the bacons regardless of how thick they were, but they noticed something interesting: Across the board, the texture was much less crispy than that of the regular-cut bacon many of us are used to eating. To understand why, we consulted Gordon Smith, professor of grain science at Kansas State University. He told us that because the bacon is thicker, it's harder to dehydrate the “lean,” or the meaty portion, of each slice to get it crispy enough; moisture lingers in the interior, resulting in bacon that registers as chewy even after you've cooked it long enough for most of the fat to be rendered. Still, the majority of our tasters found this chewier texture to be perfectly acceptable; to some, it made the slices seem more “meaty” and “substantial.”
Additionally, we preferred bacon that was leaner, with equal amounts of protein and fat. Products that had more fat occasionally came across as “greasy” or “too fatty,” though they were still largely good to eat.
Smoke, Salt, and Sugar
Flavor proved more important. Like the regular bacons, most of the thick-cut products were deemed only mildly smoky. But that was fine by our tasters, who generally ranked bacons...
Everything We Tested
Our “very meaty,” mildly smoky winner was so “great” when eaten plain that one taster had to “pause to appreciate it” more fully. This bacon stood out for its “slightly sweet,” “distinct maple taste,” which seemed to help bring its moderate sodium content into balance. (The packaging doesn't mention the use of maple, and the company didn't respond to our requests for processing information.) We also liked it in BLTs, though a few tasters found the sweet maple flavor less appropriate for a sandwich.
A thicker-cut version of our favorite regular-cut supermarket bacon, this product was actually the thinnest of the bunch, though most tasters still found it “hearty” enough and enjoyed its “nice meat-to-fat ratio.” While we liked this bacon plain, it shone especially bright in our BLT tasting, where it bested our overall favorite with its subtler sweetness, “slight smokiness,” and “mild” but ultimately “pretty classic” flavor.
The thickest product in the lineup, this bacon was “meaty,” “substantial,” and “perfectly thick, with good chew.” Tasters liked its “slightly sweet” flavor and generally thought it had “just the right amount of smoke,” though a few found it “overly smoky.”
Tasters found this bacon “very average” and “generic, but not in a bad way.” With a moderate salt content and “faint smoke,” it had nothing to upset anyone but nothing to really distinguish itself, either. Its high fat content read as “rich” to some but “a bit too fatty” to others. Still, this “meaty and chewy” product delivered the essentials: Overall, it was a “good piece of bacon.”
The second-thickest bacon in the lineup, this product had a “firm,” “substantial” texture and a “very porky,” “mild, [and] not that smoky” flavor that tasters particularly appreciated when eating it plain. It had the highest fat content in the lineup, however, so a few tasters found it “a bit too fatty.”
Recommended with reservations
Tasters liked the texture of this bacon, which had “perfect thickness” and good chew, but its flavor was problematic—tasters found it “bland” and “lacking in smokiness.” Worse, with the highest sodium content in the lineup, it was deemed “too salty,” with a “strong cured flavor” that many found “gamy,” “briny,” “artificial,” or overly “processed.” As one taster put it, “Look, it's still bacon. But I don't feel strongly about it.”
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.